Show, not tell
College Essay
Marcie Belgard
Show, don’t tell
• The college essay
prompt often asks
you to think about
the impact of past
• The essay, however,
never tells the
reader these thing
directly; instead, it
shows the reader
through concrete
I was not worried.
I had watched my brother slog
through it the year before,
knee-deep in homework.
I love playing
“Would you do something
else?” my mother asked.
“Never,” was my answer.
I was scared.
I am clueless.
War exploded on our doorstep as
the town began to crumble.
An ugly, blank page glared directly
at me.
Another Definition of Telling
and Showing
• When you tell, the reader
does not see the person
“tying his shoes” nor does
the reader see the actual
tying of a shoelace.
• When you show, the
reader can see what is
being talked about as
though he were viewing a
picture. The reader sees
the person “shift the
weight of his body to one
side while kneeling down
to tie his right shoe.” The
writer, therefore, is like a
Another One
• Show writing involves the audience
by showing them what was said, how
it was said, how someone moved,
what they saw. It takes the
audience to the scene--makes it
come alive for them.
• Tell writing keeps the audience at
arm's length. It sends the message
“Stay away! Don't get involved.
Just skim the surface.”
-Mark Twain
• A = Action
• V = Vivid Verbs
• I = Imagery
• D = Dialogue
Which lead is show writing?
Why is it better?
• I have worked on many drama productions.
Recently, I was the student director to Les
Miserable. Opening night was so exciting. We
had worked on this production for 11 ½
• Climbing the narrow stairs, I stumble slightly
as my toe catches the heel of the person in
front of me. She turns around and smiles
anxiously, knowing precisely what is going
through my mind and understanding that my
mental self is not in this stairwell but up
ahead on the stage where we will perform.
This, this night, is what we have worked so
hard for the last 11½ months.
Describe a risk that you have taken
and discuss its impact on your life.
I had wanted to play junior varsity
basketball as long as I can remember. I
had played on the junior varsity team at
Hanford and was disappointed when I was
passed over my sophomore year, but now
that I was a junior I figured I would get
the position I wanted. I knew my
weaknesses and strengths, but I figured
my hard work and dedication would pay
Using show writing
Waiting anxiously outside the
meeting room for my teammate to
finish talking to the coaches, I paced
cold handed around the school.
When she stepped out of the room,
she had a slight smile, "Your turn." I
could tell that she had made the cut,
but the question was, would I?
Describe yourself using
show writing
You will be handed a card with a
characteristic written on it. DO
NOT show the card to anyone
else! This is very important!
You will use show
writing to describe
yourself displaying
this characteristic.
DO NOT use the
adjective in the
piece of writing!
“Where’s you lunch?”
she asked.
“I didn’t bring one.”
Opening her bag, she
took out a huge
sandwich wrapped in
foil. She quickly
brought out a plastic
knife and cut the
sandwich in two.
“Here. I don’t need the
entire thing.”
Another Example
Nestled in a quiet corner of the chemistry library,
I lay against the wall, glasses askew as I feign
the effects of sleep in an attempt to actually
induce sleep. I’ve found my life here on campus
– the urgency to protest and change, the
impending debacle of greenhouse gas emissions,
the hours and hours of Socratic circles that lend
many answers yet open the doors to many new
questions. I’ve found an expression of myself in
the city that I’ve never found anywhere else.
Being away from home has changed me. I smile
and think about how much better my life has
become. I have found my place.

Show vs. Tell Writing by Marcie Belgard